At face value, one would expect a band named Ghastly to actually sound ghastly, to be as raw, primitive, and unhinged as possible. None of these features could be attributed to you though. In your dictionary, ghastly obviously stands for devoted to details and nuances, calculated, cerebral. Have you ever noticed that discrepancy between your moniker and your sound, and would you even agree that there is a certain incompatibility between the two?
Ian: The idea is to have the ghastliness presented as it is in horror literature and cinema. Bone-chilling, creepy, unsettling, and eerie. The core of the songs is always raw and somewhat primitive. This is the thing that is in the head of a listener ultimately, as I’ve read comments and reviews where our music is referred to as ghastly sounding.
Would it be fair to say that, on your slow and steady journey from Carrion Of Time to Mercurial Passages, you have become something of a thinking man’s death metal band that has overgrown the straightforward, inside the box way of thinking when it comes to songwriting?
Ian: There are still the same elements in the songwriting that we had ten years ago, it’s just that the riffs and parts have developed along the way as my music and art taste has grown over the years. There is definitely more depth to the songs these days, so to unlock all the nuances you need to listen to the record a few times. You are not wrong with that thinking man’s death metal definition, I want to challenge myself every time I compose new songs. I’m not saying that I won’t do a primitive record someday, but at the moment it feels quite unlikely.
Do you believe that your music is accessible enough to appeal to literally everyone or are you looking to captivate the imagination of some more narrowly defined death metal audience? If so, how would you define that audience?
Ian: Because the base is rooted in the cold sewers of old school death metal, it could appeal to many fans of that sound, but the fact that we use melodies, clean guitars, mid-tempo and slow passages can be too much for some people I guess. I’d like to think that our music is accessible to anyone willing to step outside their comfort zone.
Could you say something about the title Mercurial Passages and the way it corresponds with the front cover image, the lyrics, and the sound of this album? After themes like time and death, that the titles of your previous two albums revolved around, what made you go celestial with this one and direct your gaze upwards?
Ian: We didn’t have the exact title before the cover was ready. It just popped up in my head when I saw the cover artwork. We have many references to mercury within the lyrics, as a planet and also as an element. The way the cover is done in our case is that Riikka gets the basic keywords the lyrics are about and she makes her own interpretation of the subject. This time we wanted to make lyrically something different and leave all those rotten carcasses and death metal clichés behind us. Lyrics are done in a strain-of-consciousness style with a surreal nightmarish idea behind them.
Death metal is usually quite neurotic and in a hurry type of music, that gets its point across through sheer power and urgency. Mercurial Passages, on the other hand, unfolds patiently and gracefully, and says everything it has to say slowly and without rushing. Is that ability to restrain yourselves a matter of maturity, did you consciously try to distance yourself from the said stereotype and avoid relying on sheer aggression and ferocity to express yourselves?
Ian: I have always been a fan of music that has much variety in it, so it is just natural to me to do this kind of music. To compose and record Ghastly albums is like painting a canvas, it can’t be done in a rush because then the result would be half-assed. I don’t want to do a stereotypical death metal record because I think there’s just no need to do that anymore. We have the classics and we should pay homage to them, not rip them off. We need fresh ideas or just extremely good fucking riffs to make the thing work.
For a couple of non-native English speakers, you write refreshingly subtle lyrics, especially in terms of their ambiguity and susceptibility to different interpretations. Is writing lyrics something that comes easy to you at this point or does coming up with some meaningful narrative require headache and deep contemplation? Do you consider your lyrics the essential part of the Ghastly experience or are they merely there to accompany the music?
Andy: Well, thank you. Ian can answer the question from his point of view but I feel the lyrics are more important to the Ghastly experience nowadays than they were when the band started. I think the lyrics and music are much more intertwined now than they were in the early days of Ghastly. I also feel that with each new release, while both the music and the lyrics remain comfortably describable as death metal, we increasingly give the listener our take on the style and not anyone else’s. As much as we love the music and lyrics from the ever-inspiring canon of death metal from the almost past 40 years, the last thing we want to do is regurgitate it. To me writing both the music and the lyrics is always a deep dive into my own subconscious, no matter how pretentious that may sound. You never quite know what you’re going to bring back with you. On Mercurial Passages I embraced this style of writing more than ever before. This technique is sure to leave the lyrics with room for different interpretations.
Ian: I have never been good with words. I do have ideas about what I want or where to go with lyrics but I can’t express myself lyrically. Andy on the other hand has always been a good writer as well as a really good friend, so it was easy to once again collaborate with him. It’s easy to work together and it feels we’re on the same page even though I will determine which lyrics go to which song. Lyrically we ascended to a higher level with Mercurial Passages and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished.
Do you feel that, in terms of evolution, the distance crossed between Death Velour and Mercurial Passages is greater than the distance between Carrion Of Time and Death Velour? Would you say that the band is developing faster as it grows older, or is it the other way around?
Ian: We get more mature with every new step we take, even though the music still gets the base from the same well of death. Carrion Of Time was a test for me if I can make a death metal album and record it too. I did it and I’m glad it happened but after that I didn’t really have any inspiration to do more. Because the situation in which I’m forced to do an album has never been the best thing for me. Death Velour was composed in a quite short time without any pressure. It had much the same kind of mentality that the debut had but it wasn’t that naive. Mercurial Passages, on the other hand, definitely took everything to a different level, so yes, the distance is greater between these last two albums.
Ghastly is obviously no stranger to drawing inspiration from a wide variety of different sources. Are there any of them that transcend the world of music and come from other forms of art, or even go beyond the art itself?
Ian: Two of the biggest inspirational art forms that aren’t music are movies and paintings. The amount of ideas that come to my head while watching movies is a vessel that takes me to the final goal. Surrealistic and mid-century modern paintings, horror and art movies are extremely inspirational to me.
And when it comes to music, has your sound been exclusively influenced by metal bands or would you say that your identity was shaped in equal measure by the bands and artists that shouldn’t even be necessarily considered extreme or heavy? What are some of the most important ones among them, both metal and otherwise?
Ian: The biggest thing that has guided me has been Tales From The Thousand Lakes by Amorphis, no question about it. After that it’s Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness and Demigod’s Slumber Of Sullen Eyes. These three are the base for Ghastly when it comes to death metal. Psychedelic and progressive rock has been a big source of inspiration from the start too. King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Grace Slick’s Jefferson Airplane songs, Goblin, and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, to name a few.
The visual component of Ghastly experience seems to be of great importance to the band as well. Each of your album covers is a sight to behold, Death Velour and Mercurial Passages in particular. Did you know from the very beginning of your journey that you wouldn’t settle for anything less captivating and do you believe that the visual presentation of your music contributes greatly to its already considerable sonic appeal?
Ian: I have always been mesmerised by really cool metal album covers, so there wasn’t even a slight possibility to make anything that wouldn’t be visually stunning. All our album covers have been painted by Riikka and I love every cover she’s done for us. These paintings are presenting our music better than anything I’d wish for. Even though I’m a huge fan of Seagrave and such artists, I think we need something different and I’m against the use of established artists for our covers. We need to take the focus somewhere else and boost underground artists.
Kari Kankaanpää of Solothus said in some interview that he considered Ghastly a breath of fresh air in the death metal scene, and described your sound on Death Velour as furious, chaotic, and mesmerizing. Do you perhaps feel the same way about Solothus and their music?
Ian: Death doom ain’t something that I go crazy about but Solothus do their job damn fine. They have had good progress during their career and there’s no doubt that their upcoming stuff will slay. That said, I am more into Kari’s other band Sepulchral Curse, that’s more up to my alley musically. He sure can do those damn awesome deep growls.
Are there any other Finnish death metal bands of your generation that you not only respect and support out of politeness but also listen to regularly and enjoy the same way you enjoy the classic bands and albums that have predominantly shaped your taste in music? Do you think that anything recorded by any of your peers will prove to be worthwhile enough to stand the taste of time and be considered a mandatory listen a few decades down the line?
Ian: We Ghastly guys aren’t young anymore so the younger folks are actually keeping the flame burning. My personal favourite among the newer Finnish bands is definitely Krypts. I also enjoy listening to Lantern and Galvanizer because they’re just ridiculously top notch stuff in their own respective fields. I’m going to dodge your question a bit and throw a few foreign bands here that are definitely something special in my book, and those are Obliteration and Venenum.
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